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How to Write a Better Book Proposal
by Brian Scott

Most authors find that writing a book proposal is more challenging than actually writing the book itself. Your book proposal is the critical element for landing a publishing deal before you have written your book, giving you peace of mind that your carefully-crafted tome will find its way to the waiting hands of its intended readers.

Here are our top 10 tips to maximize your success:

1. Understand its purpose

A book proposal is used for securing a publishing deal for a non-fiction book. Unlike fiction manuscripts, which authors generally submit they have completed their manuscript, non-fiction books are mostly commissioned by reputable publishers before the authors write them. Your book proposal describes your proposed non-fiction work, accompanied by a short sample of some of its key pages. It is a sales tool to persuade a publisher that they must have your book. As it is important to hit the right note - you must sell your proposed book idea without sounding arrogant, and you must prove the quality of the product in question.

2. Answer the key questions

Make sure your proposal answers the following key questions: Does it explain clearly what the book is about? Who is the book’s target audience? How is your book different from its competitors? Are you the best person to write it?

3. Set the right tone of voice

You are your idea’s biggest fan. If you don't rave about your book, why would anyone else think it is the best idea ever? Of course you must back up your assertions in your proposal, but it is also important that you sound enthusiastic and credible.

Remember that your book proposal and your book are two separate entities. The tone of voice that you adopt in your proposal need not echo the tone of voice that you use in your book - it simply has to serve to make your readers sit up and take notice.

4. This is a sales tool

Remember that the main purpose of your proposal is to convince the publisher to commission you to write you book. Your final book may deviate from your proposal - all things are subject to flux and change as they develop. For now, you simply need to believe that yours is a winning idea. Back up your assertions with facts, and persuade the publisher that your book is going to be this year’s bestseller. That said, your proposal will serve as your blueprint for your book so give it the detailed thought it deserves. Once you start writing it will form the starting point for an idea that will evolve and improve as you work on it.

5. How to structure your book proposal

A successful book proposal should include the following information:
  • Book title
  • A very short sales pitch, as little as 100 characters
  • A brief description and outline of the book
  • Technical details such as proposed page count and writing timescales
  • Specific reasons why this book stands out
  • Chapter count and list of titles
  • A short narrative description of each chapter
  • A sample chapter, or maximum two
  • Key sales and marketing arguments
  • Target market and sales channel recommendations
  • Competitor analysis
  • Author biography
  • An S.A.E. with your contact details so the publisher knows where to find you.
6. Write a strong cover letter

Your cover letter should be brief, approachable and contain a short, one-line summary hooks the editor or publisher. Include your personal details and your credentials relevant to the book.

7. Content overview

Your summary and chapter overviews are essential to demonstrate that you have planned and thought through the book’s structure and content to a sufficient degree.

8. Content sample

Coupled with your content overview, you will include a sample of your book to convince the publisher that you are able to deliver a finished manuscript according to their standards and guidelines. Aim to make your sample around 15 to 20 pages, spanning either one or two chapters.

9. The Market Analysis

Your market analysis is vital for showing that your book will sell. You need to show how your book will stack up against the competition in terms of price, content and positioning. A strong marketing plan will really help with your proposal, so research marketing tips or take some advice from a friend or colleague if possible.

10. Don’t give up

It can take months (or sometimes years) for a non-fiction book to secure a publishing contract so do not feel disheartened. Most authors do not receive acceptance from a publisher on a first try. Continue to fine-tune your book proposal and keep submitting it to publishers who have an open-call-for-submissions. If you have a solid idea that fulfills a need in the marketplace, it is only an issue of time before publishers recognize its value.

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